Why am I giving you my dinosaur geek cred? Because I want to be clear that when Jurassic World was announced, I was one hundred and seventy percent on-fucking-board. I was there. Literally the only thing that kept me from the first showing on Thursday night was the fact that I had dental surgery Thursday morning, and did not understand how hands worked. When I saw the first trailer, I cried. I am not ashamed of that. I have been going to Jurassic Park for my entire adult life, and yeah, if they announced the opening of the Isla Sorna location tomorrow, I'd sell a kidney if that was what it took to get me there. Bets have been taken as to whether I will one day walk down the aisle to the Jurassic Park theme.
(I probably won't. But let's face it, a dinosaur-themed wedding would be pretty fucking sweet.)
But there was one thing that made me a little...let's go with "nervous" even during trailers, when I was shushing people who tried to talk to me during my special dinosaur time. And that was the fact that you had Bryce Dallas Howard's lovely Claire—and "lovely" is a necessary qualifier for a woman who's wearing solid white and high heels and putting that much effort into straightening her hair in Costa Rica—but that was, well. About it for humans of the female persuasion. (In the JP canon, most if not all dinosaurs you encounter will be female, due to the cloning process that makes them. This does not actually count as having gender balance. Honest.)
Wasn't going to stop me from going. After all, Jurassic Park III had lousy gender balance, with only Amanda and Ellie really keeping up the side, and it's generally regarded as the worst of the original three. Surely the filmmakers would look at that and say "Yeah, little girls found their way into the franchise through Lex as a viewpoint and Ellie as an aspiration, just like little boys had the combo of Tim and Alan! Let's make sure we keep everyone at the party!" Part of my passion for this franchise comes from the fact that when I was a little girl, Jurassic Park was actually willing to invite me in. Surely the trailers were leaving something out.
There are four named female characters in this film. That's a lot! (Technically there may be more, because there are women on one of the two mook squads, and their names show up on a big fancy board that shows us when they die. But given that I am not actually sure that one of the four I'm including in the "official count" actually gets named on screen, I am disinclined to give credit for "named female character" based on "you labeled a picture that may or may not have been the actual actress on the screen, since we never really saw their faces. So, four.) Let's run them down, in order of appearance:
* THE MOM. In the grand tradition of visits to the Park, there are children, and for the second time, the children get to have a mother, pretty much entirely so she can tell our career-focused female "lead" that she needs to make some babies of her own. The Mom's name is Karen. The Mom does not make it to the island until the very end, but still has the second-highest number of lines of any woman in the movie. (The first time was Jurassic Park III, when Amanda went to the island looking for her son.)
* THE CAREER WOMAN. Oh, Claire. Claire is our "female lead," and much has been made of the fact that no, really, the actress insisted on doing the whole part in high heels, honest, she wanted to run in the jungle in heels. And maybe she did! Hell, when I used to do Horror Survival Sleepaway Camp, running in heels was fun. The fact remains that the central woman in this film is presented as unflinchingly wrong for focusing on her career, and in fact, not very good at what she does, given that somehow she hasn't noticed that her biggest dinosaur sometimes disappears for no reason. She's basically here to give Owen the raptor dude someone to mack on. (And is, in fact, given the highest praise of all when her nephews tell her that her boyfriend is cool.)
* THE ASSISTANT. Zara is Claire's calm, collected, efficient British assistant, who is assigned to watch the nephews (which is what makes her evil, according to the narrative; how dare she do her job when Claire, who has apparently had two teen boys dumped on her with little to no warning, actually has to keep the Park operational), and who is given the dubious honor of being the first human female to die on-screen in the franchise. She also has the single most agonizing, drawn-out death in the entire franchise. The villains get quicker, cleaner, less gonna give the kids nightmares deaths than Zara does, for the crime of...not being the blood relative of the boys she was trying to keep an eye on? (I have seen people defending this as "well, dinosaurs aren't sexist." The trouble is, when you have four named women, and you do this, it's not the dinosaurs making choices. It's the directors.)
* THE PROOF THAT JURASSIC WORLD EMPLOYS WOMEN, NO, HONEST. Vivian is one of our two control room viewpoint characters. If her name was actually said during the movie, I missed it. She seems to exist purely to look sad and/or distressed, and so that Lowery—the control room employee whose choices actually matter, who is cool and obsessed with the original Park and really cares about the fate of this one—can try to kiss her when he decides to make his last stand. A kiss which she rebuffs with an awkward "I have a boyfriend," not a "SWEET JESUS WHY WOULD YOU TRY TO KISS YOUR CO-WORKER ARE YOU FUCKING HIGH."
As in the original movie, we have two viewpoint children. This time, they're both boys. Why? There's nothing about either of them that is essentially "this is a male character." Zack is at the age where he's noticing girls, and fun fun fun, this meant that for the pre-all hell breaks loose portion of the movie, he is constantly oogling the teenage girls around him. A pattern that is echoed with Owen/Claire and Lowery/Vivian. That is what you're for, says the movie. You're here so that, should a male lead want you for his prize, you will be available.
Claire is not deadweight. She does some cool stuff. Zara...well, Zara dies, and Vivian cries, and Karen lectures her little sister on the importance of family. My problem is not that Claire is in over her head and doing it all in high heels. My problem is that she's supposedly the lead and it takes all of five minutes for her to become the sidekick in someone else's film. My problem is that even saying "well, the dinosaurs are all female" doesn't cause this movie to pass the Bechdel. My problem is that it's tired. How interesting would it have been to keep the same cast and make it Clark and Olive, instead of Claire and Owen? Let him run around the jungle in suit and tie; let her have a velociraptor army. How easy would it have been to write another boy/girl kid pair, as in the first, and give everyone an easy entrance?
(None of this touches on my issues with the theme park economics of Jurassic World, or the sheer ludicrousness of the overhead shots containing no strollers or wheelchairs. I go to Disneyland a lot. Unless they actively do not allow disabled people on Isla Nublar, that is not what their main drag looks like.)
I gasped and teared up when the camera cut to the first full view of the Park, because I have been dreaming of going there for my entire life. That is the theme park of my heart.
I still feel a little bit like they've just said I can't renew my Annual Pass.